When it comes to your data, there are times when a USB key doesn't have the capacity or speed you need, and you can't afford to have a delicate hard drive smashing on the floor. Enter ruggedized USB 3.0 hard drives, which address all of our needs by combining speed and reliability into a supremely portable package. We put three such drives to the test, and found out which one has the speed you crave and the durability you require.
LaCie Rugged Mini USB 3.0 1TB
The LaCie Rugged Mini we tested is a 1TB 5,400rpm drive that features a classic brushed-aluminum housing with USB 3.0 and LED activity indicators. The bright, removable rubber case makes this hard drive resistant to drops from four feet, which matches the Transcend StoreJet's durability. Its two-year warranty is the shortest of the three drives in our roundup, though.
The Rugged Mini can take some abuse, but also dishes some out to your wallet.
LaCie's bundled software is bare-bones, and offers a power-saving utility and Genie Timeline backup software. Genie Timeline provides a simple interface with the option for a hierarchical file view, the ability to enable AES 256-bit encryption, and support for basic backups. You get just the bare minimum though, and will have to pay $40 for the Premium Edition of the software that lets you do things like schedule backups and recover files. To its credit, LaCie includes 10GB of cloud storage that’s good for one year, and it’s the only drive here to do so. But at $130 it’s also the most expensive one here, so we were surprised by how spare the software package is given its cost.
In our file-copy benchmark tests, the Rugged Mini was the fastest of the group by a teeny, tiny margin, chewing through our 30GB file transfer test in four minutes, 47 seconds and averaging 107MB/s via its USB 3.0 interface. In our synthetic tests, the drive's read and write speeds averaged 84.3MB/s and 82.3MB/s, respectively, which were mid-pack but close enough to the other two to call it a draw.
While the Rugged Mini has the best looks in the group, it’s a shame there’s nowhere to hide/stash its gangly USB cable. In general, this is a stylish drive that covers the basics very well in that it’s sufficiently fast, has decent software, good protection, and looks neat. But for the price, we expected more. Throw in the fact that it has the shortest warranty here and most limited software, and you have a tough sell to anyone not shopping on brand identity alone.
Transcend's StoreJet 1TB sports a 5,400rpm hard drive and has the best price-per-gigabyte ratio in this roundup. It’s also available in 500GB, 750GB, and 1.5TB flavors, and meets “military drop-test standards” via a three-stage protection system that includes a soft rubber shell, internal hard drive suspension chamber, and reinforced hard casing. The drive is tastefully appointed, with a patterned back and shaped edges that provide excellent grip, but unfortunately it only comes in purple. The drive is something like an iPhone in that it has just one button. Located on the top-right corner of the drive, the button serves as an activity indicator, is the means of remounting the drive after ejecting it, and can be configured to run a backup routine, as well. There is nowhere to stash the included USB 3.0 cable, so it just flops around like a ponytail.
The StoreJet only comes in purple, but it’s good enough that we don’t mind.
The StoreJet 25H3p's included software suite is polished and abundant, sporting full-featured backup software, a drive formatter, and a file system converter. Dubbed "TranscendElite," the backup software has a simple interface that quickly lets you manage and schedule backups or encrypt/decrypt files. It's beginner-friendly, with a clean and intuitive interface.
On average, the USB 3.0 Transcend StoreJet slightly outpaced the other two drives in our speed tests, but again, they are all very close. Although the StoreJet's burst speed maxed out at 187.4MB/s, placing it behind the LaCie drive, its average read and write speeds of 85.6MB/s and 84.2MB/s put it ahead of the other two. In our drop tests, the StoreJet took several trips to the pavement and kept right on chugging along.
Overall, the Transcend is a well-rounded package. Its three-year warranty is excellent, we love the software bundle, and it’s rugged and speedy, making it a very full-featured and solid choice. It’s extremely affordable, too, costing just $10 more than the Buffalo but offering twice the capacity.
The Buffalo MiniStation Extreme is extreme all right, featuring a drop rating of seven feet, five inches, which is the highest of all the drives in this roundup. It’s available in both 500GB and 1TB sizes, and comes in red, silver, or black. One handy feature is the routing along the edge of the drive to hide the included USB 3.0 cable, making it the only drive in this group to offer such a convenience. Although the front of the drive features glossy plastic, the back sports a rubberized material that prevents it from sliding off your desk, which is appreciated. The integrated USB cable is pretty short, but Buffalo redeems itself by bundling a 1.5-foot extension cable. Extending the cable from its housing reveals a useful drive-activity indicator that flashes green when the drive is in use.
The Buffalo Mini-Station Extreme is very tough and able to keep its cable stashed, too.
Buffalo's bundled utilities cover a wide range of useful tasks including creating a RAM disk, making backups, scheduling sleep mode, enabling 256-bit AES file encryption for files and folders, and auto-authenticating commonly used computers. You can also password-protect the drive and configure it to lock after a number of incorrect password attempts. The MiniStation Extreme's bundle also includes programs called TurboPC EX and DiskFormatter, which are simply not useful and have interfaces that look like they were developed in 2001.
Performance-wise, the MiniStation was consistently very close to the other drives in our tests but came in just a bit slower, which isn’t a huge deal so we’re not knocking it too much. It also sailed through all of our drop tests despite being dropped from twice the distance as the others.
When you add it all up, the Buffalo comes out on top in this roundup by virtue of its excellent software, extreme durability, color options, cable management, and decent speed. It’s truly the best package here, just barely edging out the Transcend drive for top honors. It’s a bit expensive for its capacity, but worth it.
Best scores are bolded. All tests conducted on our hard-drive test bench, which consists of a Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 motherboard, Intel Core i5-3470 3.2GHz CPU, 8GB of RAM, Intel 520 series SSD, and a Cool Master 450W power supply.